Is the Nokona baseball glove brand poised to make a content marketing comeback or are they going to fade away?
Nokona makes the world’s best baseball gloves in my opinion.
Handcrafted in Nocona, Texas, they are a premium product that many of their customers cherish.
And I’ll admit, I love Nokona baseball mitts! I love the leather they use, I love their branding and I love their story.
Okay, I got that out of the way up front!
Nokona mitts are well made, easy to break in (some models easier than others) and the brand name brings back nice memories to many who love the game.
I recall as a kid, whenever a group got together to play some baseball, we all checked out each other’s gloves and bats. The kids with the best equipment were always picked first to be on the team. We also carried baseball cards in our back pockets just in case of an opportunity to trade or flip cards came up.
Checking out other baseball gloves used by other kids was part of the fun. Usually, we all used familiar brands such as Spalding or Wilson, but every once in a while, someone would have a Nokona. Many of us would ooh and aah over the Nokona and dream of owning one. We all wanted to try it out. Perhaps this is because they were not often found in the Northeast where I grew up? Don’t know.
Remember, “back in the day” the number of brands making baseball gloves was more limited. Giant sports stores like Academy and Sports Authority didn’t exist or else I was not aware of them. Most sports stores were small businesses that catered to their local community and their stock of brands was limited.
But a Nokona baseball glove always stuck out and was noticed by the kids. So when my son started to play baseball a few years ago, I took notice of which baseball glove brands are prominent today and which ones seem to be favored by the players (professional and otherwise).
I also looked up Nokona to learn more about their story, particularly the business/marketing one — and its interesting.
Nocona, the company and its story
Nocona Leather Goods began in 1926, making purses and wallets. For years, the town of Nocona (100 miles northwest of Dallas) was a center of leather goods production, from belts to boots. Eventually, the company began making baseball gloves and changed he ‘c’ in Nocona to a ‘k’ for branding. The Nokona brand was born.
The company began making Nokona gloves in 1934 and went on to ship many thousands of baseball mitts to U.S. servicemen overseas in World War II. The Storey family, the company’s longtime owners, kept the factory in Nocona even after baseball glove production began shifting to Asia in the 1960s.
The competition has been rough ever since then. So rough that Nokona made more football products in the 1970s than for baseball. In the 80s and 90s the company made the leather harnesses for night vision goggles which were used by the U.S. military.
Fast forward to today and there have been a few different owners. In 2010, the company was languishing in bankruptcy court until Cutters Gloves purchased the Nokona brand. They kept Rob Storey (founding family member) in place to run the factory of two dozen employees so they could continue cranking out top quality baseball and softball mitts.
So where is the Nokona brand today?
I have no insight into the company’s financials, but I believe the brand is doing better than before.
However, they leave a lot on the table.
Nokona has a renewed focus on “elite travel ball organizations” (read: tournament leagues) along with their own Nokona (little league) team program. This gets the products into the hands of elite young and up and coming baseball players. The expectation is that those who go onto to play college and even the MLB will continue to use the brand.
The company also seems very active in traditional marketing techniques including sponsoring select events, attending events and tradeshows, lining up some endorsements from pro ball players, etc.
Which is all fine, but does it get their brand in front of boys like my son or their parents?
My son does not play tournament ball (we actually believe in playing different sports during the seasons of the year). Most kids don’t. They play it seasonally as we do. So, aside from seeing the Nokona brand in some major retailers (Academy being one), I don’t have much exposure to the brand in person.
I NEVER see a kid my son’s age (11) using a Nokona. All of them use Rawlings, Mizuno, Wilson, etc. I don’t think most of his friends even know and maybe have never heard of the Nokona brand.
And living in Houston, its not like there’s a shortage of money around here (oil business anyone?). In my experience, parents tend to buy their kids the best equipment as long as the child is interested in playing the sport. I see kids using baseball bats that retail for $200 to $300 on a regular basis. The mitts they use are no different.
So, should seasonal baseball players be left out of Nokona’s marketing outreach?
Nokona and Social Media
Judging by their social media channels, they are active but mainly so in the die hard or elite circles of the sport. Their YouTube channel has a whopping two videos on it and both were loaded over a year ago.
Their Facebook page is better populated and interacts with the customers by calling them out, encouraging them to post and including a lot of photos of Nokona ball gloves in use. This is smart and fairly well done and includes a call to action button saying “shop now” for those who wish to purchase.
Yet, there are some things that are unclear …
In 2012, the brand opened a fan contest for an opportunity to win a free custom baseball glove and a chance to be featured in a Nokona ad. I believe a winner was announced but I’m not sure. A winner was announced for a monthly giveaway but other then highlighting that person on the Facebook page, its hard to determine if anything else was done.
In short, they don’t do anything consistent on their Facebook page. I can’t tell if there is a summer contest each year? Is there is a monthly contest/giveaway? If so, these need to be conducted regularly so the visitors can expect it so they can participate. Otherwise, the inconsistency undermines the effort to build momentum.
There should be no doubts in the minds of their visitors/customers. Nokona needs to clear this up.
The Twitter channel (@nokonabaseball) is active and has about 2.3K followers as of the writing of this post which is low and could be much higher. It is an active channel and highlights much of the activities they have going on. Yet, there is more they could do.
The Nokona website. The website offers a lot of information but it is a bit all over the place. I prefer a single call to action on a web site. If the Nokona objective is to sell more baseball gloves then that should be the focus. If it is to get visitors enrolled in a Nokona promotional program, then that should be the focus.
Keep it simple and direct. Know what you want your visitors to do. If you don’t, they will leave.
Also, a critical mistake in my opinion is the lack of email collection on the Nokona web site. As a niche player and one that is hoping to compete against the big boys in their category, they should be collecting email addresses and marketing to their customers directly with new deals, giveaways, tips on glove care, tips on baseball fundamentals, interviews with up and coming baseball players and more.
Nokona should control the dialogue with their customers as much as possible.
Regarding the web site, a quick look at Ahrefs gives us a snapshot of the situation. It does not look bad and there is much that can be built on this:
What can Nokona do to change this?
From an online marketing perspective, the main problem appears to be a lack of a clear objective with supporting plan to execute against.
Their current online marketing seems to be a hodgepodge of activities designed to gin up interest but not much else.
The offline marketing program appears to be the emphasis including attending events, promoting via their elite touring teams, the Nokona little league teams, endorsements by big name players (i.e. Nolan Ryan) and more.
These activities are most likely necessary and probably productive.
The online marketing effort should more clearly support the offline efforts.
Some other things to consider: For their online marketing, I recommend they concentrate on growing their social media channels as an objective for six months and then shift to a new objective once their growth goal is met.
What do I mean by growth? Grow their Facebook fans, Twitter following, YouTube Channel and probably establish Nokona on Instagram and Pinterest as well. Both are image focused and will help reach their audience more quickly and broadly.
Once they build up these channels to substantial numbers, I recommend they begin experimenting with content marketing to see what drives their customers to their website where they can then collect email addresses.
I also suggest Nokona make an effort to reach out to some targeted little leagues in at least four or five Texas cities with a sponsorship and promotional program of some kind. The company should seek to “own” Texas as its their home state. This could take a while, but the benefits could far outweigh the costs. Nokona could also include a lower income little league in each city and offer to help the kids with equipment or simple sponsorship. Perhaps the company could help fund the travel for lower income kids so they could join a tournament team?
Once they get these things in play, Nokona might also consider seeding some top online influencers with some product in an effort to get more reviews posted. I’d even consider bringing a few select influencers to visit their factory in Nokona, Texas to give them a tour. Nokona would surely get a some excellent content (long form blog posts, photos and videos) posted about their company, brand and products that way.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are plenty of ideas but its mainly focus that is needed now.
Nokona needs to choose a clear objective for their online marketing, implement a strategic content marketing strategy, test and repeat.
For now, they should keep it simple and keep it direct. They have a lot of potential.
Right now, I’d say Nokona has a full count.